Healdsburg City Council voted Monday to authorize a request for proposals be sent out to seek a private entity willing to lease or contract out management operations at the city-owned Villa Chanticleer.
Wood and other councilmembers, faced with an average $100,000-a-year deficit to run the venerable event center, voted 4-0 to proceed with the RFP. Councilmember Susan Jones was absent.
In the vote, City Council agreed with a report from a Villa Chanticleer subcommittee that has been meeting for the past 10 months. The report indicates that the city spent $512,597 over the past five years to subsidize the Villa operations and make up for losses.
"All of us in the subcommittee have a strong connection with the Villa -- even in our personal lives," said Kent Mitchell, a Healdsburg Parks and Recreation Commissioner. "In our role as stewards of the Villa and patrons of the Villa, we want it to be economically viable so that it will stay a part of our lives."
Subcommittee member Elizabeth Haskell, of the city's Parks and Recreation Department, said the planned RFP would include a guarantee that any new management would preserve the usage and discounts of Healdsburg residents and of existing nonprofit stakeholders -- such as the Healdsburg Rotary Club, the Healdsburg Unified School District, Healdsburg Chamber of Commerce and many others who have regular events at the Villa.
In particular, any new management would have to maintain intact the operations of which runs the bar and various events out of the Villa's adjacent Annex building.
"It's certainly not our intention to push the veterans out," Wood said. "The problem is that if we just maintain the status quo, we'll be allowing a beautiful asset to slowly deteriorate.
"We could get to 2027, when the Legion's lease at the Annex expires, and not have a viable building on this beautiful 17-acre property," Wood said.
Council also agreed to make sure that the RFP includes a provision to maintain the Healdsburg Dog Park at its current location behind the Villa.
"We invested $14,400 in improvements to create that dog park almost 10 years ago," said who served on the dog park's founding committee. "We want to be considered stakeholders and we want to be in the loop when decisions are made."
A background report in July by the Villa Chanticleer subcommittee mentioned in passing that one option could be to move the dog park, but that idea was soundly quashed after protests at a July 11 meeting of the Healdsburg Parks and Recreation Commission.
Tom Grimes, commander of the Healdsburg American Legion post, said that his biggest concern was that the Legion maintain its liquor license to serve alcohol at the Annex -- a major source of revenue. Councilmembers told him that the city could split the addresses for the Annex and the main Villa, with each of the two addresses having its own liquor license.
Grimes said the post has added several other veterans' groups -- Sons of American Legion and the Veterans of Foreign Wars Post #768 in Windsor -- to its ranks and increased its social events.
"I feel good about where we are now," Grimes said. "In 10 years, we'll celebrate our 100th anniversary in Healdsburg."
George Sager of the Windsor VFW post said his main concern is that "veterans don't get pushed aside," he said.
About 20 veterans in uniform and their friends sat in the audience for Monday night's meeting.
Retired Col. Pete Peterka of Santa Rosa told City Council that the same issues of deteriorating buildings and lack of operational resources exists for veterans buildings throughout Sonoma County. He said the county in August contracted out management of three of those buildings in Cotati, Santa Rosa and Petaluma to a nonprofit, United Conference Camping and Resorts of Petaluma.
"The main thing is, we wanted to maintain the right of veterans to use these buildings," Peterka said. He said the Petaluma organization was the only entity to respond to Sonoma County's 50-page RFP.
Healdsburg's RFP process is expected to take about a year, Haskell said.